23 April 2017 – Blois, Orléans and off to Paris…. [France]
After riding through the beautiful Loire Valley for several days, we had 1 last day to explore before heading North to Paris. It was a non-riding day, so there was a little more exploring of Blois before training it to the city of Orléans, a visit to an awesome park and some Joan of Arc history. After a day with a lot of trains we made it to our Paris apartment, and back to ‘our street’.
After Soren being the early morning rising culprit of late, this morning Astrid woke everyone up by 7.30am. Always the way when we aren’t in a rush! It was down the Mercure restaurant for our last French hotel breakfast which was more crusty bread, croissant, smelly cheese and bad coffee. We love French food but miss Italian coffee!
The final day of the bike tour was a non-riding one, and when planning the trip we had debated whether we hung out in Blois before an early departure for Paris, or went and explored a little more of the Loire Valley, off the bike. There were plenty of towns and just as many châteaus that we hadn’t yet visited, but we’d rightly assumed we might be a tad over châteaus by this point. Orléans seemed like an interesting city to explore, it had a train connection to Blois, and we hadn’t yet had much time there.
Before departing Australia, a day trip to Orléans was booked, but due to an annoying train timetable and lack of bag storage in Orléans we had decided it was safest to leave all our luggage at the hotel in Blois, and return to Blois that afternoon to retrieve it (despite having to go back through Orléans on the way to Paris late in the day).
After we were packed up, bikes returned, checked-out and bags deposited in hotel storage, we walked the slightly under 2 km to the Blois train station with just our 1 bag for the day. We were still debating whether we taxied or walked with our luggage in the afternoon. The train station was in the upper part of town, the hotel in the lower part of town, near the river. Blois is full of both stairs and cobblestones, neither of which are ideal with luggage. The walk to the train station did take us through a different part of town, we were yet to explore and again past the Royal Château de Blois. At 10 am we were on the express train to Les Aubrais, the station just outside of Orléans. This was back the way we came on our trip into the Loire Valley from Venice (via Paris). We’d inadvertently spent a few hours at Orléans train station several days earlier when we missed our connecting train to Amboise. This time we were hoping to have a chance to explore the city.
The trip to Les Aubrais was only 22 minutes, so really quite quick. Once in Les Aubrais we had to catch the tram into Orléans city. Les Aubrais is a pretty small station so it didn’t take us long to find the tram, but as we were buying tickets the next tram came and just departed. Any other day of the week there would be another tram in 5 or 6 minutes, but on Sunday mornings it was a 25 minutes wait.
It was only a 3km walk into Orléans but we decided to wait for the next tram and just wandered around. Unfortunately there wasn’t really anything to look at so it was a pretty boring wait. Finally the tram arrived and we were on our way into Orléans.
Once on the tram we decided we might as well head to Parc Floral de la Source first. We had been planning to tram out there anyway as it was approximately 9km from the city centre, and on the same line as the tram we were already on. Unfortunately the ride out to Parc Floral was a good 40 minutes on the tram through the city and out into the suburbs. At this point we were wondering if riding our bikes from Blois would have been more efficient!
Parc Floral is next to the university (Orléans is a large university town). It was pretty easy to locate the stop and once off it was a short walk to the park. Aside from the signs pointing us in the correct direction there were also several other families and small kids heading in the same direction. It was already around 11.15am when we reached the park and we smartly checked the return tram times before leaving the tram stop so we didn’t’ get stuck with another long wait to get back into the city.
There was a 6 Euro entry charge to the park for adults but under 6 year olds are free. We had read lots of good reviews of the park, which is why we were keen to visit. Since there was an entry charge and it took us ages to get there, we were hoping it was going to be good. It was indeed good and worth the trouble!
Parc Floral de la Source covers 86.5 hectares and is on land between the wooded region of the Sologne region and the plains of the Loire Valley. The land was given to monks in the early 6th century and owned by various noble families until the first gardening work was commenced in the early 18th century. The garden opened in 1964 as a recreational park as well as a showcase for the horticultural department and is now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the region.
The park was huge and had lots of nice flowers and grassy areas for the kids to run on. The plateau part of the park is covered by a semi-natural forest of hornbeams and oaks. Located on the plateau are animal enclosures for a variety of species, including alpaca and Ouessant sheep. By request of the kids we headed straight for the farmyard area and said hello to the donkeys, sheep, goats and alpacas. There were also some very noisy peacocks patrolling. The kids were keen to play in the giant parrots that had slides and climbing ropes.
With only a couple of hours to walk around before needing to catch the tram back, we dragged the kids off the play equipment and explored more of the park. Through the forest areas there were more sections of play equipment dotted around. There was a giant pond down the middle of the park (which is the source of the Loiret river). The pond is supposed to have flamingos but it was probably a bit cold and we could only spy some ducks.
We wandered to the other side of the park and found the iris garden, which was about to burst into flower. There was also a rose garden, the valley of perennials, the garden of the Source, the exotic butterfly glasshouse, the kitchen garden and the dahlia garden, several sculptures and treed areas. Being mid-Spring there were plenty of blossoms flowering and seats to sit in the grass and relax. There were also picnic spots and we probably should have bought one with us, like most of the other families but had planned to find lunch out in Orléans.
We could have wandered Parc Floral for hours but saw most bits in 1.5 hours and then we let the kids have another chat to the donkeys and play on the parrot slides before departing for the tram station. It had definitely been worth making the trek out to Parc Floral.
The tram back to the centre of the city was about 25 minutes and fairly painless except for having to stand due to a lack of seats. This time ticket inspectors were on the tram and we were glad we’d gotten our tickets as lots of locals were getting busted for riding without a ticket, and trying to slip off the tram at the next station while they were stuck up our end of the tram.
Soren had gotten into the ergo during the tram ride as he was tired…… and as we were standing he had promptly fallen asleep on Anto’s back. We had planned to wander around the city area of Orléans and grab some lunch. Being a Sunday we knew lots of places would be closed but we weren’t expecting it to be dead like it was. There was hardly anyone around and not a bakery or patisserie open.
Orléans is situated in North-central France, approximately 111km from Paris, on the banks of the Loire River. Joan of Arc famously saved the city from English siege in 1429, an event celebrated with an annual festival. The city is home to approximately 250,000 people and is an important business hub, being only an hour by train from Paris.
Still on the lookout for lunch we had a wander through the city square, with a stop to check out the Joan of Arc statue. Many historical houses and mansions are located in the city centre, which is one of the largest in France due to the great importance of the city until the 20th century. The city also has a large number of historical monuments.
We’d spied a carousel on the tram ride earlier in the day ,but Soren was still napping so we weren’t game to either wake him up to have a go, or let Astrid have a go without him, lest he found out. We instead wandered through the pedestrian area of the city and up towards the Orléans Cathedral. It was a lovely sunny day and there was an impressive array of colourful flags adorning buildings, but not a lot of people around!
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross of Orléans (Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Croix d’Orléans) is rather large and prominently placed so we didn’t have trouble finding it. The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Orléans and was built from 1278 to 1329 and 1601-1829 (after partial destruction in 1568). The cathedral is probably most famous for its association with Joan of Arc (the defender of Orléans), who attended evening Mass in this cathedral on May 2, 1429 while in the city to lift the siege. The cathedral’s stained glass windows now depict the story of Joan of Arc.
The cathedral was rather beautiful on the inside, including some impressive stained glass and an enormous organ. Soren slept through our entire walk around!
We’d pretty much given up hope of finding anything open for lunch and there wasn’t long until our train back to Blois. We thought we’d go to the shopping centre attached to the train station of Orléans (where our return train out was departing from) and where we’d found lots of good options a few days earlier. Our walk back took us around the back of the cathedral and then along more streets adorned with flags.
On the walk to the shopping centre Astrid had reminded us that we’d had quite nice pastries from ‘Pauls’ the other day and she fancied a few more (didn’t we all!). Once we arrived at the shopping centre the whole thing was closed. The curses of Sundays in France, not a lot open! Astrid was most disappointed.
With the shopping centre closed the next best option was the train station itself, which only had one small take away store open. It was now 2.30pm and we were all rather hungry. We managed to locate a tomato, basil and buffalo mozarella baguette; a prosciutto, mozarella and olive salad; and, some flan naturale. It was all pre-packaged and we expected it to be bad but we had little option.
Our train arrived 20 mintues early (yes, this is the same station the train left early from several days early causing us to miss it) so we jumped on and ate our lunch which turned out to be really good. Apparently even dodgy French train station food is better than a lot of cafe food in Australia.
We were on the non-express train back to Blois, and it wound its way through a few villages, some of which we’d ridden through or past during our bike tour. Back in Blois we thought we’d find some more food as it was a late arrival that evening into Paris.
It turned out Blois was just as sleepy as Orléans on a Sunday and there was precious little open. We had been hoping to visit some chocolateries that afternoon, which there ended up being no chance of. There were also no real patisserie or even supermarket options for food. In the end we found a cafe open and stopped in. I think every other tourist in Blois was also there due to lack of options. Despite having just eaten lunch we figured we had better have some afternoon tea because we weren’t sure what we were getting for dinner.
Afternoon tea turned out to be a chocolate milkshake, iced coffees for the adults, a caramel and banana cheesecake and a strawberry sablé. All were good but it was too much sugar even for me. The kids were happy though, if rapidly tiring. Maybe the sugar would power them through some luggage moving?
On a bit of a sugar-high we then had a slow walk back along the river to our hotel. With nothing really open we figured we’d get the annoying bag transfer out of the way, and walk off some of the sugar.
We were still debating the train vs walking option given how tired everyone was. With an hour to kill though we decided to walk. After picking up our bags and loading up like pack horses we were off. The hotel staff seemed to think we were weird for even attempting to walk to the train station let alone with bags. We’d already walked it twice that day (without bags) so decided not to do the taxi since it was a nice day.
The walk was fine except the cobblestones and the one section of steep stairs and gravel. We walked past the Royal Château de Blois one last time and made it back to the train station in only 5 minutes longer than what it took us without bags.
The train station food offerings were pretty woeful. The sandwiches there were not fit for human consumption so we ended up with some pringles, chips, and diet coke for the adults. I still had some other random chocolates and lollies scattered through our bags from days out riding, so we weren’t going to starve as long as we didn’t care about consuming anything with nutritional value.
Our train to Paris was the express with only 1 more stop (in Les Aubrais) where we’d been earlier in the day. We managed to get into the right carriage and the train was fairly full with a lot of people heading back to Paris for the work week. We had reserved seats and found people sitting in 2 of them, and with grumpy tired kids we turfed them out as there were no other groups of 2, let alone 4, seats together.
The over-tired kids eventually gave in to napping after we allowed them to eat some chips for dinner. The express train is a bit over an hour and 20 minutes. The first 20 minutes of the trip through to Les Aubrais was the same part of the trip we’d already done twice that day! We were starting to feel like we were going in circles.
Both kids didn’t want to wake up from their train naps and we both ended up with a drool spot on our pants from the kid that had been sleeping on our lap.
The train arrived into Gare d’Austerlitz at 7.30pm and then it was 2 metros to our apartment. We were staying in the same area as our last 2 Paris visits (in the 2nd arrondissement). We deliberately picked an apartment on the same street, Rue Montorgueil, that we ‘lived on’ for our first 2 month stay, as we loved the area so much. This also made it easy to find our way around!
Aside from the annoyance of moving bags through Paris metro stations (lots of steps, no lifts and tiny gates to get luggage through) it was a fairly smooth transfer through to Sentier station. Since we knew where we were going it was easy to find the apartment. Anto had the joy of hauling all the bags up 4 flights of stairs but we managed to arrive by 8.30pm and meet the host of our Airbnb apartment. Which was tiny as we expected but had amazing views of the street, and was more than comfortable for our 4 nights in Paris.
Being a Sunday, there wasn’t really supermarket options for additional food (most things close at lunch time). There were several restaurants on the street open, but taking exhausted kids out at 9pm didn’t seem wise so they scored their second round of dinner of half a muesli bar and some wafer biscuits we found in our snack supply. At least we were in Paris and we knew there was a good selection of patisseries metres from the door that opened fairly early for breakfast.
After a long day of walking, sightseeing, moving bags, seemingly endless trains and a lot of sugar, we were all tired and crashed into our comfy beds. We were definitely glad to be back in Paris and were looking forward to the next few days of exploring, shopping and food!
Daily statistics for Sunday the 23rd of April in Blois and Orléans, France – the temperature range was 1 to 17 degrees Celsius, sunny with moderate winds. Not a bad day for exploring. The total walking for the day was 17.1km, unfortunately quite a few kilometres of that were with bags!
Up next – a beautiful Spring day exploring Paris, and checking out Jardin des Tuileries in bloom; a wander down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a visit to the Arc de Triomphe and plenty of delicious food!